Assessment Chat

"Leading for Learning": Charter Schools

Paul Hill and Betheny Gross from the Center on Reinventing Public Education answered questions inspired by Education Week's newest "Leading for Learning" report on charter schools.

September 10, 2008

“Leading for Learning": Charter Schools

  • Paul Hill is the Director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education and a professor at the University of Washington.
  • Betheny Gross is a senior researcher with the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Ann Bradley (Moderator):

Good afternoon, and welcome to Education Week’s Live Chat on our new “Leading for Learning” report on charter school leadership. Our guests, Betheny Gross and Paul Hill, from the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, will discuss and answer your questions regarding the world of charter schools. I’m Ann Bradley, an assistant managing editor at Ed Week, and I’ll be moderating this discussion. We’re already receiving questions, so let’s get started.

Question from Brad Huff, founder and board member of Valley Arts & Science Academy:

Charter school leaders are reacting to the huge narrowing of the curriculum in traditional public schools. Finding highly qualified, creative, dedicated teachers for charter schools, especially at the elementary level is NO PROBLEM. Many of our most professional and best performing teachers are leaving the classroom. “I won’t continue to be a part of a system that doesn’t allow me to teach the way I know students learn.”

Does anyone have data on how many of our best and brightest teachers have left teaching as a result of NCLB? Betheny Gross:

I do not know of any study that specifically looks at the relationship between NCLB and teachers’ attrition from the field. However, with regard to your concern that the best teachers are leaving teaching, there is increasing evidence that the most productive teachers probably haven’t been leaving teaching, when we measure productivity based on the gains made by their students. To date, studies from Texas, New York City, Florida, and North Carolina all show that teachers who get higher gains out of students are less likely to leave the field.

Question from Rachel Lautenschlager, Teacher, Mesa Public Schools:

What qualifications are necessary for teachers to be employed at a charter school? Does it vary by state?

Betheny Gross:

Qualifications for charter school teachers is discussed in terms of necessary teacher certifications. State laws do vary on this matter with some laws saying that charter teachers need to be fully certified to some saying they don’t to some saying a certain percentage of teachers in each school need to be certified. To some degree the specific requirements of state laws have taken second fiddle to the Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT) provisions of No Child Left Behind. Under these provisions charters are subject to the same HQT standards as their fellow traditional public schools, though states do have different arrangements for provisional certifications.

Question from Sara Paul, Teacher, North St. Paul High School:

As principals are encouraged to be “instructional leaders” in the school setting, have you found a difference between effective traditional public school principals in this role v. charter school principals? How about Operational categories of the principal’s job such as their a difference in how principals from tradional public schools and charter schools view this role?

Betheny Gross:

Unfortunately, our research was not able to (1) identify “effective” directors (in the research community has had a lot of trouble quantifying effective leadership) and (2) make a direct comparison between charter directors and traditional public school principals in the job functions or performance. Off hand I can’t think of any studies that have looked at this comparison along your lines of interest. From my observations in field studies of charter and traditional public schools, there is a range of skill in both charter a traditional sectors. One interesting twist on school leadership we have seen in charter schools is that many have decided to split up the leadership job with one director taking the business functions and another director taking the instructional functions.

Question from Mike Stahl, Executive Director, Pikes Peak Education Association:

Why don’t employees have the rights established in public law at a public institution like a charter school and what instructional advantage is there to diminishing employee rights in a charter school?

Paul Hill:

District collective bargaining agreements apply to district employees. Charter teachers are not district employees. However, charter teachers are covered by basic US labor laws and have the right to form their own union locals, as some have done. This has led to some innovation in employment practices and uses of funds for instruction, which were intended results of charter laws.

Question from Rick Beck, researcher, Ohio Federation of Teachers:

One of the key differences between charters and traditional schools is that, without unions and contracts, teachers have little influence and authority over what happens at their school. What are the advances that the charter principals create that are NOT a result of the shift in the authority they have in a school? What characteristics and skills do they bring to the table other than that structural freedom. Please be specific in your examples.

Betheny Gross:

I’m not sure that working outside of union contracts necessarily implies that charter teachers have no influence over their schools. There is, of course, considerable variation in role of the teacher across charter schools just as there is in traditional public schools. The 2003-04 SASS charter school teachers and traditional public school teachers reported comparable levels of influence in various school issues (e.g. 65% of charter teachers say they have “great deal” or “moderate” influence over curriculum 60% of traditional public teachers report the same). In our field studies there are examples of very strong shared decision making models being used. In fact, several directors in our field study suggest that this structural autonomy frees them up to rethink and be flexible with the role of teachers in their schools. This might involve creating positions that are both in the classroom and administration, or that the teacher’s assignment changes during the year, or host of other variants. With these directors it seems to be less about specific skills (as you would expect to see in anywhere the individual skills of charter directors varies widely) and more about creativity intersecting with autonomy allowing them to try new approaches.

Question from E:

How do you think the motivation for charter school leaders setting up their own school differs from the motivation for the charter movement at higher scales of governance?

Betheny Gross:

It is difficult to comment on the motivation of people but my sense from talking to charter leaders in our field study is that local charter leaders are first and foremost interested in providing local students with a valuable, relevant, and rewarding educational experience. Our survey found these leaders to be very mission driven and focused on the vision they have for their school. The larger goals of growth and expansion in the movement, something important to people who are in the higher levels of governance, is a secondary interest.

Question from Barry McGhan, President, Center for Public School Renewal:

Prof. Hill,

Last year, the folks at the Fordham Institute published “The Autonomy Gap: Barriers to Effective School Leadership,” focused mostly on the lack of autonomy in typical public districts and the depressive effect that lack has on leadership in those schools. How critical is school autonomy is to the development of valuable leadership characteristics in charter schools?

Barry McGhan

Paul Hill:

It is critical for charter schools to be able to hire teachers who want to be there and want to provide the forms of instruction promised to parents. This puts pressure on leaders to find the right people and manage their schools in such a way as to reward them appropriately. It will I think, lead charter leaders to have a much richer set of management skills than those typically used in district run schools.

Question from Marc Severson, Teacher, Tucson Unified School District:

Why are charter schools allowed to operate under a different set of rules than public schools?

Paul Hill:

Charter schools are public schools operating under different rules: that’s so by definition. The motive was to create diversity in instructional approaches and create options not otherwise available locally.

Question from Betty Ziskovsky, retired teacher and educational consultant:

With the dual challenges every school faces in today’s world - 1) operating within a balanced budget and 2) achieving adequate scores on mandated performance tests - what role does the concept of continuous improvement play in public charter school operations? How are these principles being applied to lower costs and improve student learning as measured by NEAP scores and a lower dropout rate?

Paul Hill:

That’s a big one. Charter schools are stretched just to provide the instruction they promise, yet they must also be alert to competition from other charters and district run schools. This can be too much for a school with few resources and no connections to help. One of the reasons for CMOs is to provide charter schools with help assessing their own performance and finding new ideas. It is still too soon to know how well this will work.

Question from Denise Jennett:

Can anyone give examples of the variety of choises that Charter Schools give parents?

Betheny Gross:

Nationally charter schools vary considerably in their size, school design, and instructional model. In terms of instructional models you can find very traditional schools with the familiar classroom and teacher but can also find schools where students take all of their courses on computers. Some schools take a project-based approach while others follow well-known textbook curriculum. I think it is important to realize that nearly every model of charter school can also be found somewhere in the traditional public schools. What charters offer in terms of choice is something different from what their local traditional public schools are offering. Some parents think charters offer a smaller school, a safer school or a more focused school. It really depends on what is available in the local public schools.

Question from ora Beard, Principal:

How are Charters handling the special needs children, I have not heard this addressed in any article. All we hear is how great they do with regular education.

Betheny Gross:

That’s a really good question. People have worried that charter schools might not admit children with special needs or might not be equipped to deal with them. In the end, charter schools seem to regularly serve a subset of special needs children and that parents are drawn to these smaller, more flexible schools because of the hope they offer for their children. Children with serious challenges have opportunities for more resources in traditional public schools. Charter schools have also banded together in some places to form special needs co-ops so they can share resources. NCSRP has been looking at this important issue of vulnerable populations in charter schools and will be releasing 3 reports this winter (by Paul Teske, and by Public Impact.) The reports will cover challenges and opportunities, best practices, and why parents would choose charter schools.

Question from Jennifer Claypool, Superintendent, Miami Valley Academies:

Why haven’t the State Boards of Education demanded the Superintendents and Principals in charter schools have the same credentials as the teaching staff? Example: HQT (Highly Qualified Teacher) from NCLB.

Betheny Gross:

The requirements for certification are typically specified in the charter laws, which are drafted in the state legislature. I’m not sure that authorizers such as State Boards can demand something that is not in the state laws.

If you are wondering why charter laws do not have certification requirements for principals, I suspect that this was done for many of the same reasons these laws often do not have certification requirements for teachers. The goal was to free these schools from existing regulations and mandates.

Question from Juanita Lee, Student, Cardinal Stritch University:

Regarding virtual charter schools, what lessons can be learned from the start-up year that may prove useful to other virtual charter schools as they plan for their first year?

Paul Hill:

I wish I knew the answer to this. Virtual schools must do a lot to prepare materials in advance, while some new brick and mortar schools wing it at first. That might be a source of lessons from virtual schools.

Question from Karen Green, H. S. math teacher, Community H.S. Milwaukee P.S.:

I teach at a public charter school in the inner city, with 90+% of our students low income, minority and at risk. The vast majority of charter schools are serving disadvantaged children. Most of white suburbia has no need for charter schools, their public schools, supported by strong tax bases (expensive property) being quite adequate. I think there is a plan to destroy inner city public school systems so that the wealthy do not have to subsidize them. Many people who start charter or voucher schools do so to make a quick buck. Very few of the charter and voucher schools in Milwaukee are doing a better job educating our students than the public schools are doing and the ones that are, generally existed in a traditional form prior to converting. My school is doing well but at the expense of dire teacher burnout. Teacher leaders share the administrative duties at the school and everyone wears several hats. My question concerns funding: Do you think we need to find a new way to fund schools so that the funding inequity of property taxes no longer can create segregated unequal schools? Do you think disadvantaged children require substantially more resources to educate equitably than students from well educated and wealthier families? Do charter schools in any way make up for these inequities?

Paul Hill:

I doubt there is a conspiracy of the kind you suggest. But there is a big problem getting enough money into urban schools, and making sure the same amount of money is available to educate a child no matter what school she attends. I also think we need to experiment with different ways of providing instruction, to see which ones work better for disadvantaged students, and what they cost. My center has a big project on all this, which you can find at --- called the School Finance Redesign Project.

Question from Gia Gardner-Orr, Prinicipal, CICS-Longwood in Chicago, IL:

I am interested to know how charter leaders are characterized as differenct from “traditional principals” in our educational society?

Betheny Gross:

I’m not sure I fully understand your question but here is some information on the distinctions we see in who is leading schools across sectors and the distinctions we see in the nature of the job across sectors. On average, charter directors tend to be younger, newer to school administration, and have fewer advanced degrees than the average traditional public school principal. Most report holding their highest degree in the field of education. Though they typically do not need state principal certification, many either currently or previously held this certification. When it comes to the nature of the job, charter leadership generally entails a great deal more organizational administration (budgeting, human resources, leases or building projects, facilities management) than is required of the traditional public school principal simply because charter schools usually do not have a central district office to provide these functions.

Question from Melanie Gallo Educational Consultant Former founder and director of a charter school in MA:

Are the skills needed to found and develop a school different from the skills needed to sustain a school. What does the research say on this subject?

Betheny Gross:

We think so but there isn’t a great deal of research on this yet. In general, founders need skills related to getting an enterprise off the ground. This means finding facilities, working with a new governing board, convincing students and families to take a risk on a brand new school, recruiting great teachers, rounding up funding, dealing with any community opposition to the new school etc. (Deal and Hentschke 2004 and Perry 2002 offer some discussion of these issues.)

Sustaining leaders are generally thought to need internal management skills and instructional leadership: recruiting and keeping effective staff, working on the guts of the school’s educational program. Sometimes the founding leader in unable to make the shift to more of an internal role.

We hope some of our upcoming work will shed light on this question.

Question from Dolores Young, principle consultant, Young Options in Education:

Given charter schools’ leaders autonomy over human resources decisions, what are leaders in urban areas doing to attract, support, and retain talented faculty members? In efforts to produce achievement growth among urban youth, what characteristics in teacher candidates do they seek? And, on which aspects of new teachers’ skills and knowledge do they concentrate development and support?

Paul Hill:

There is no one answer to any of these questions. Charter leaders are tryig to attract the smartest new ed school graduates and lure TFA graduates and others with unusual backgrounds. That’s so in part because they can’t always offer salaries to compete with district schools. They are also offering good beginners extra money, and giving people as much responsibility as they can take, regardless of seniority.

Question from Richard M. Capozzi, Teacher, Norman Thomas High School:

Our projected K-12 charter school proposes to address the needs of the whole child, teach towards a culture of peace and educate for sustainability. I am looking for an intermediary partner who would be willing to work with us in Brooklyn, NY. Do either Paul or Bethany have any suggestions?

Paul Hill:

Michele Cahill at the Carnegie Corporation would know someone.

Question from Ruby Peters, Teacher, Lawton Public Schools:

What is the process for setting up a Charter School? Where do you apply for employment in Charter Schools? Are there any Charter Schools in Oklahoma?

Betheny Gross:

The process varies by state and charter school authorizer (the body that is permitted to authorize a new school). Generally, the process involves submitting a charter applications, which details the prospective school’s instructional model, curriculum, plan for special education students, facilities plan, and financial plan. The applications are reviewed and accepted or declined.

According to the Center for Education Reform’s Charter school report from 2007-08, Oklahoma had 15 charter schools. Employment in charter schools are generally handled by applying directly to the school.

Question from Debra Franciosi, Associate Director, Project CRISS:

Priorities of the school’s leadership set the tone for any school. With the often reduced funding of charter schools, coupled with the fact that professional development is often one of the first things lost when money is tight, how are/should charter school leaders ensuring staff receive high quality professional development? What delivery systems are best?

Paul Hill:

I think Betheny’s Inside Charter Schools study will tell us a lot. My impression: in charter schools professional development is problem solving. The school spends time and money to upgrade skills or methods that aren’t working well, but does not buy broad programs or guarantee every teacher a certain number of days’ PD every year. This resembles the private school practice.

Question from Verdya Bradley, Supervisor of Innovative Programs:

There are no certification requirements for charter school leaders. Where are they expected to learn the required skill set for school leadership?

Betheny Gross:

Though there are no certification requirements, our recent survey of over 400 charter school leaders revealed that most (73%) have degrees from colleges of education. Those programs have been criticized in recent years for being out of touch with what traditional public school principals need on the job, but it is even more problematic for charter leaders, who have to manage both the instructional side and business side of their schools (these programs rarely if ever touch on funding, budgets, facilities, recruitment/hiring/inducting/firing personnel). We recently published a paper (and this edition of Ed Week summarizes much of the findings--"Closing the Skill Gap: New Options for Charter School Leadership Development” that looks more closely at what charter leaders struggle with and where they are getting training and experience. There are a host of new charter leadership programs that are in the works, but the bottom line is the demand from leaders still outpaces supply of training programs. In the end, many charter leaders say they get their best help from other charter leaders.

Question from Doug Thomas, Executvie Director, EdVisions Schools:

Do you see potential for small groups of teachers leading schools, as in a professional practices, cooperatives, or distributive leader partnerships? Could this be a way out of the stress and overwhelming responsibilities of the principalship? We’ve seen success in these partnerships in our schools. It completely changes the professional life of teachers.

Betheny Gross:

Some charter schools are definitely trying to rethink how to administer and run schools using their autonomy and regulatory freedom to do this. We have seen in both our survey and in our field studies schools that step away from the traditional Principal and Vice Principal structures. A charter school seems an appropriate place for a teacher cooperative to operate. We too agree that there is great positive potential to organizational designs that share leadership in charter schools. Our research team is currently examining the use of and benefits and disadvantages of distributed leadership in charter schools.

Question from School Board Representative, LA:

As a school board member of an individual charter in LA, I am concerned what background new charter leaders are coming from, from personal experience I can see an increasing number from a business rather than educational background, do you think this is a problem as schools lose their academic focus and become ‘business driven’ institutions? I know this was one of my concerns and reason to try and get involved in charter schooling.

Paul Hill:

I don’t know of any examples of schools becoming business driven. (except those that started out with a business career focus). To my knowledge people come from business to education because they want to teach, not because they want to propagandize for business. Inevitably, some people don’t work out as teachers, but many obviously do. I don’t think we know yet whether teachers from any one source are more effective than those from another. M guess: the very best ed school graduates are the best of all, but teachers from other sources might be better than the average of ed school grads.

Question from Ray Griffin CAO Denver arts and Technology Academy:

What do you think about the curent state of Charter School Management companies? Opressive: follow the model al all costs vs. local community variance and independence? There seems to be a new understanding of the difficulties of replication and management in effort to replicate original models. thoughts?

Betheny Gross:

I got a little help from my colleague Robin Lake, who is now involved in a large evaluation of CMOs that should shed some light on how they work and manage scaling up. She said, In general, CMOs tend to take a fairly centralized approach to school management (see Quantity Counts), though there is a fair amount of variation out there.

With regard to leadership, CMOs are meant to help school leaders by taking away some of that extra administrative responsibility we talk about in our article (human resources, budgeting, maybe even facilities issues). When we looked into our survey, we really expected CMO leaders to be more confident(since they have support) and maybe even experience fewer problems in the school. However, CMO leaders were never more confident than other charter leaders and in some issues actually less confident. They also reported about the same types of problems in their schools. Question from Cindy Seibel, graduate student, University of Saskatchewan:

In Disrupting Class, a recent book by Christensen, Horn and Johnson, the authors suggest the chartered school movement was intended to drive innovation but the successful innovations have not in turn been well integrated into public education. Is the role of the charter-school strategy to sponsor innovation? How are successful chartered school programs re-integrated into the mainstream?

Paul Hill:

Christensen assumes that innovative schools will draw students away from district schools and force the district schools to imitate the innovations. Thus, he argues that district schools will move toward charters. We have seen some of that, but it is not as widespread as Christensen predicts it will become.

Question from Shellie R. Glass, Dr. , US military:

Would you recommend establishing a school that is very focused in its scope (ie, science and math, or fine arts, or just for underprivileged students) in order to keep the student population on a small scale? Or would you recommend having as large a student population as possible?

Paul Hill:

I would definitely recommend a highly focused school, and starting as small as yo can and still pay the bills.

Question from Sandra Elliott, Program Officer Charter Schools, Texas High School Project:

Have you seen any indications that the experienced charter principals are being recruited by school districts because of their skill set?

Betheny Gross:

I have not seen any data on this issue specifically. However, in our survey we asked directors what they expected to do after leaving their current position and few said they would take another job leading a school (traditional public or charter).

Question from Debra D Johnson, President - the Professional Parent Development:

What monitoring regulations are charter schools held to and who is responsible for enforcing these regulations? Are parents on the required or requested to be part of the evaluation process?

Paul Hill:

This varies state by state. You would have to read your own state charter law. Charter authorizing agencies typically look at test scores, enrollment stability, and staff stability. If a school is losing more than the normal number of students, authorizers want to know why, and some talk with parents. If they are thinking of closing a school many authorizers hold hearings in which parents can present their views.

Question from Jim Hunt, Principal, Monroeville Elementary, Monroeville, IN:

Do charter school organizers typically have any kind of “personality test” of screening to find the kind of leadership and/or teachers they want to run and work in the school? One would think that charter schools would be looking for individuals who have the ability to “think out-of-the-box” and are not restricted by typical school paradigms.

Betheny Gross:

In addition to our on charter school leadership we also conducted a survey on human resources in charter schools. We are finding in that survey and in our field study that focuses on these issues that charter leaders spend a great deal of the time with candidates making sure they will fit with the mission and goals of the school. Fit, in fact, is a really important issue for them. They try to figure this out through interviews with candidates, having candidates meet with other teachers in the building, and having candidates do a teaching demonstration.

Question from Anna Cicero, High School Counselor, Westwood High School, Mesa Arizona:

For every ONE good Charter School there are 20-30 bad charter schools. I intake those students who are coming back, and they return discouraged, failing, and glad to be back to public school. I have yet to “take in” a student “unhappy” they are returning. Many return with A’s and B’s in core subjects, that once tested upon return...they fail the basic content of the course. Where is the Accountability?

Paul Hill:

I have not seen evidence of your 1 to 30 ratio of good to bad charters. The numbers vary by location, but in general the worst that can be said of charters is that they are about as effective as surrounding public schools. School choice creates a funny kind of feedback to schools. The families that leave a school do so because they were not happy there. Thus the receiving school gets lots of bad stories, even if the vast majority of parents at the sending school are happy. By the same mechanism charter leaders can get an unduly negative impression of district run schools.

Question from Kirsten Olson, educational consultant, Old Sow Consulting:

I work with many charter school leaders who are exceptionally dedicated, hardworking, idealistic, and young. They tend to be “purpose-driven” leaders with high ideals and intense energy (as do many of their teachers). Yet because of this, there is also very high burnout among CS leaders. Do we ask too much of CS leaders in terms of leading reform and school improvement in this country? As existence proofs that real change can happen?

Betheny Gross:

What you describe is what we have seen in our field visits of 24 charter school in CA, HI, and TX. Long days, unending demands, high pressure and a sense of urgency that they can’t let the kids down and they only get one shot at a good education. Many of the schools we visited were serving disadvantaged, low income, students who were at-risk of dropping out. This kind of intensity is unsustainable. And the results from our survey of charter school principals reveals that turnover is high--most (71%) will be gone in 5 years. This is the same rate, however, for traditional public school principals too. Their are two things to be done about this. One is that charter schools are free to organize themselves in whatever way is efficient and effective. This means there can be much more sharing of leadership and responsibility. Not all charters do this--many set themselves up fairly traditionally. But when done well, this can alleviate the need for the superhero. And secondly, and related to that, is to accept that in today’s world of work, few people stay at a job, much less a career, for longer than 5 years. There is inevitable turnover, and the schools that prepare for this, that create succession plans--that create strategic plans-- can whether turnover in leadership, and other important positions.

Question from Brooke Bell, Dir of Research, CIT, Herndon, VA:

What are some challenges and issues unique to administrators of virtual charter schools?

Paul Hill:

I wish I knew more about this. The Utah virtual school has trouble finding teachers who want to work n line, and the more they employ the more quality control issues they encounter.Yo should talk with the Utah school leaders.

Of course there are also the problems of making sure it is the student who dies the on-line work, and keeping students motivated despite limited face to face contact.

Question from Monica Kowal, Teacher, AIMS@UNM:

What trends are you seeing in terms of parental involvment/investment with/in charter schools? Are parents who send their children to charter schools more involved in students’ educations than those who allow their children to go to large comprehensive high schools or private schools?

Paul Hill:

Hard t generalize. The latest research I have seen says that charter parents do more to enforce homework and behavioral expectations but are not at the school more often. Of course that would not be true of charter schools that require parents to do certain amount of work around the school.

Question from Bob Tate, Senior Policy Analyst, National Education Association:

As you know, charter schools are covered by the No Child Left Behind’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements. How are they doing? There are indications that charter schools are failing AYP at higher rates than regular public schools.

By the way, contrary to what has been reported in several outlets, NEA does not oppose charter schools. We do insist that they should be held fully as accountable for their quality—-including student achievement and having well qualified staff--as are all other public schools, and that the people who work in them should have the opportunity for an organized voice in decisions made that affect both the quality of the educational environment for students and their working conditions. At the same time, NEA is advocating that the No Child Left Behind Act should be changed to account for individual student progress. We believe the law needs to be demanding and fair, and include incentives that reward individual students, teachers, and schools for student progress instead of simply punishing students and schools which face some of the most difficult challenges.

Paul Hill:

AYP is a mess as it is written, and it gives perverse results about some charter schools, just as t does about district run schools. The reauthorization will probably add gain measures and other more sensible ways of measuring school performance. Charters should be reviewed the same way as other schools. But a bad measure like the current one is good for no one.

As for teacher voice in school decisions, unionization is one among many options. Question from mark waxenberg, Director of Government relations, Connecticut Education Association:

We represent public charter school teachers and have found many charter school authorizers have proved widely inconsistent in their efforts to hold charter schools academically and fiscally accountable. What measures do you propose charter school leaders, authorizers, and policy makers take to ensure that more schools don’t become anecdotes for the 6:00 news?

Paul Hill:

This is a huge question. I have an article about it in Charter Schools Against the Odds, Education Next Press 2006. Robin Lake and I will publish a much deeper piece in early 2008. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers also has a valuable website. In general, scandal follows careless or crony-ish charter approval.

Question from Brad Huff, charter school founder, Fresno, CA:

You replied to my earlier question that studies show “productive teachers are less likely to leave the field.” Please explain. Do you mean teachers whose students are doing well on the NCLB tests because they are effective with scripted reading and worksheet math materials?

I also sought a response concerning charter schools keeping a richer curriculum teaching the whole child in ways that children learn best instead of the narrowed programs using scripted reading and worksheet math. Betheny Gross:

Sorry for not being clear. These studies measure teacher productivity based on the gains their students make on state standards based assessments, controlling for a myriad of relevant biases. These productivity measures remain controversial to some and few suggest this is the only indicator of a successful teacher.

Charter schools like traditional public schools are required to meet state accountability standards and in general the schools we’ve seen take this seriously. As I’ve said in early comments there is a good deal of variation in charter schools and this comes to curriculum too. I don’t really have data that would allow me to generalize to all charter schools. Sorry.

Question from Susan Nogan, Senior Policy Analyst, NEA:

4. No Child Left Behind grants charter schools a waiver of the requirements that all teachers and support professionals meet the federal definition of “highly qualified” where state law authorizes less than 100% compliance. Do you think this has helped or harmed charter school students, and how?

Paul Hill:

I don’t know. The way “highly qualified” has been interpreted to date means little. I’m betting that there are some highly effective charter schools that have taken advantage of the waiver, and also some unsuccessful ones.

Question from Daniele Anderson Board Member Madrone Trail Public Charter School:

Given the multiple skill sets and responsibilities required of principals of charter schools due to the lack of support services from the school district central offices as with public schools and the limited operating budget of charter schools, what would your suggestions be to address these multiple overhead responsibilities? (volunteers won’t always work due to confidentiality of some type of responsibilities and reliability and accountability are also important as well)

Paul Hill:

It would be great if charter schools could form mutual support groups so they could share these functions. Some state charter associations help. CMOs also exist in part to elp schools manage these burdens.

Question from Christine Mason, Director Academic Professional Development, Student Support Center:

Charter School leaders are not required to be certified. Did you note any differences for charter schools with certified versus uncertified principals?

Betheny Gross:

We did not sort by certification, but we did look at the differences between principals whose highest degree was education vs. those whose highest degree was in something else, and there was a pretty clear distinction about comfort levels on the job--those from education were more comfortable with the instructional side of the job, those from outside education felt more comfortable with the business side of the job. But, not surprisingly, those who felt comfortable with both sides were those with prior school leadership experience.

Question from Sharon R Schultz, Consulting Director of Speical Education, VSECoooperative:

Public charter schools with which I work have been struggling with meeting the needs of students with disabilities across the continuum. What do you propose can be provided to charter school principals to both develop understanding of students with special needs and support provision of services in the least restrictive environment?

What are the support systems to ensure that administrators in charter schools know of the requirement of the IDEA to provide access to students with disabilities?

Betheny Gross:

Some independent charter schools are forming special ed co-ops to share expertise and resources about special ed. Principals should also be able to get help from local charter school associations or state offices. We have a few upcoming reports on charter schools and special education that will outline the policy issues and provide examples of good practices

Question from AD Board Member, charter school, OR:

Parents at charter schools seem to have a misconception of their role within the governance of the school: “Involvement should entitle them decision making authority, i.e. executing contracts, etc.”. The parents would like to share the decision making authority with the principal of the school while not being accountable for much as a volunteer. How do we build school community, encourage participation while protecting the governance of the school. Communication both verbally as well as in writing did not seem to get the points through.

Paul Hill:

Clarity up front is all important, but as you say, not enough. I see little choice but to stick to your principles, be as opsn as possible about why decisions were made, and suggest to parents who want to be more involved in decisions they consider starting their own school.

Question from Ron Benner, School Psychologist, Classical Studies Accademy, Bridgeport, CT and NEA Cadre member:

Here are some questions:

a How are leaders of charter schools prepared to make decisions about accessibility for adults and students with disabilities?

b What can be done about entrance criteria and hiring practices that discriminate against individuals with disabilities?

c How do charter schools effectively meet the needs of students with disabilities?

d Are there any procedural safeguards that are required of these schools and how are they monitored? What documentation do they need to collect to show procedures or any of the other IDEA requirements?

e If we look at the Charter Schools from a general education reform movement and ask the question what are they going to do if a student does not learn? What process will they follow from general education through to possible identification as a special needs student?

f Do they have any Child Find responsibilities?

Betheny Gross:

Since most charter leaders are trained programs as other public school leaders, their preparation is about the same. Like any public school, some leaders are more prepared than others to understand and accommodate special needs students. Some charter schools are excelling at this and providing interesting new models from which other public schools could learn.

Charter schools are required to follow the same special education procedures as other public schools. The schools are monitored by state and local agencies for compliance.

Question from Linda Ritchie, Reading Specialist, Western Heights Middle school:


Paul Hill:

Depends on state law. In general, most charter teachers are certified but a significant number come from outside the profession, e.g. TFA, business. Some employ graduate students to teach science and math, which can be a very good thing.

Question from Dina Hargrave, Education Consultant:

Are you seeing a trend to invite non-educators into administrator positions within Charter Schools?

Betheny Gross:

I can’t really speak to future trends but we learned in our survey that about 13% of charter directors came from outside education to leading their school. Attracting leaders from outside education is something many charter advocates hope will happen.

Question from Marsha Sanders-Leigh CEISMC:

What information do you have on entire districts becoming charter? The school system of Decatur, GA is now a charter.

Paul Hill:

This requires a special state law. Georgia’s is unusual. Promising. Districts in other states are becoming all-carter but the districts themselves don’t have special charters from the state. e.g. Chula Vista CA

Question from Brad Huff, charter school founder, Fresno, CA:

The role teachers play in a charter school’s curriculum depends on how the charter is written and the state laws governing charter schools in general.

Unions can be good protecting teachers’ rights and unions can be bad preventing innovation and flexibility.

Is there any evidence of unions supporting charter schools anywhere unless the teachers have unionized? Paul Hill:

Not to my knowledge. Both national unions say they support charter schools but to now what that means it is necessary to read the fine print

Question from Jan Sylvester:

Chester Finn, one of the nation’s most prominent advocates of charter schools has admitted that it is very hard to close a mediocre charter school. What is being done about closing mediocre charters?

Paul Hill:

See the National Association of School Charter Authorizers website. Closing bad charters is a top priority. Authorizers must have clear criteria and be prepared to weather criticism.

Ann Bradley (Moderator):

Thanks to Paul and Betheny for participating and for our audience for such great questions. We had more than we could answer, which is not surprising given the great interest in the charter sector.

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